Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Annals of Derp: Feihu

Photo via Wikipedia.

Mr. Erik Prince, patriot, writes ("Contractors, Not Troops, Will Save Afghanistan"), for some unknowable reason published in the New York Times though even General Mattis knows he's full of shit:
In 1941, shortly after Pearl Harbor pulled the United States into World War II, a group of volunteer American aviators led by Gen. Claire Chennault known as the Flying Tigers fought Japanese aggression in China. They were so successful that many people believe they were decisive in holding back Japan, eventually leading to its defeat.
Question to Radio Yerevan: Is it true that many people believe Colonel Chennault's American Volunteer Group  (later known as the Feihu飞虎 or Flying Tigers) was decisive in holding back Japan in China shortly after the Pearl Harbor attack, leading to the Allied victory?

Answer: In principle, yes. But first of all the 87 pilots and 300 ground personnel arrived in Burma before the war began, and spent half their tour there, not in China; and second of all, in spite of truly heroic performance, they did not exactly hold Japan back but retreated from Rangoon in February 1942 and from Burma altogether in March, and although they definitely played a crucial role in preventing Japanese forces from moving from the west on Kunming and Chongqing over the next couple of months, they were disbanded in July and so their influence was pretty limited, given that the war lasted a lot longer than the seven months of their deployment. Third of all, only if by "many people" you mean General Chennault, because you don't find anybody else making the claim. At least he's the only one Wikipedia can find:
This prevented a Japanese advance on Kunming and Chungking; the Japanese never advanced farther than the west bank of the upper Salween. Claire Chennault later wrote of these critical missions, "The American Volunteer Group had staved off China's collapse on the Salween." Despite being on the defensive thereafter, the AVG continued to harass the JAAF with raids on their Vietnamese bases.
It's also weird to cite them as part of a case for why we should give Erik Prince some unspecified number of billions of dollars to set up a mercenary force in Afghanistan, because in the first place they were hardly mercenaries, though they were paid a good deal better than US servicemen; they were officers in the Chinese Air Force, recruited for it straight out of the US army, navy, and marines; the only reason they existed was that President Roosevelt wanted to do something for China before the war started, for which Congress wouldn't have put up with him using US forces until Pearl Harbor changed the situation, and once the one-year contract was over they were mustered straight back into the US armed services.

Nor did Chennault make any particular fortune out of it either, though he used his fame very well after the war to start an airline, Civil Air Transport, later the Air America passenger line and the Flying Tigers cargo outfit (which merged into Federal Express in the 1980s). Chennault was really a showman at heart—he'd spent years after World War I as a member of an aerobatics team that did spectacular daredevil air shows all over the US, and it was at one of these that Major Mao Pang-tso, an aide to Generalissimo Chiang, saw him and decided to invite him to China to modernize the air force. In the end, the most important use of the Flying Tigers (and I want to emphasize that they were genuinely brave and cool and anti-fascist, though Generalissimo Chiang was of course not very anti-fascist himself) was for propaganda, in the manufacture of pro-Chinese sentiment in those wonderful movies of the months before the US entered the war and after, and General Chennault's memoirs.

Fifteen years since the United States entered Afghanistan is a pretty different situation from right at the beginning of "the Good War", and I really doubt a Princely force is going to make any difference, especially in the light of his horrible reputation from Iraq and his revolting family. It's certainly not going to make fighting in Afghanistan look glamorous to anybody, and Prince's ignorance doesn't inspire confidence that he can do anything at all. Contractors will not save Afghanistan; only negotiation will.

Terrific and not very strenuous reading on the Flying Tigers here.

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